HI there, Does anyone out there know the truth about ethanol ? one side says it will save america and the other side says it takes more energy to produce than you get out of it.

There are two kinds of Ethanol plants and that document explains how they work. This document explains how to build a plant in Minnesota, which has some good information on how things work, such as;

“Ethanol may also be produced from wood waste, waste sucrose, potato waste, brewery waste, food and beverage wastes, and other sources yet to be considered. In Minnesota, ethanol is currently produced almost exclusively from corn. One facility is producing a small amount of ethanol from cheese whey.”

Then there’s the issue of how those plants are powered. Mostly they use natural gas to heat the brew and distill it, and therein lies the energy conversion controversy. Using corn and natural gas, we only get out 1.34 units of fuel for every one used in the process. Not particularly efficient. Brazil gets 8-9 units of fuel out per unit in processing sugar cane.

Some of the newer, more expensive plants are trying to use biomass (crop residue, ethanol production byproducts) to produce the necessary heat and electricity for the process so that it doesn’t require fossil fuels.

This place intends to use ethanol byproducts (leftover from the production process) and animal waste to produce biogas.

It’s up for debate. Here is one person’s analysis.

Boils down to “Using food crops to create Ethanol is not terribly efficient, drives up food prices and probably isn’t the best use of ‘food’”.

Moved from General Questions to Great Debates.

samclem, Moderator

What is the debate? :dubious:

Well oil is a limited resource. We will run out of it eventually.

Probably true, but doesn’t really say much about current Ethanol production.

Have you actually heard anyone saying it will save America lately? Corn ethanol was a big deal a few years ago, but as the actual efficiency numbers started rolling in, the idea kind of flopped and petered out everywhere but the biggest corn-producing states. Maybe the technology will develop in such a way that it makes sense in the US someday, but nobody is getting too worked up about it at the moment.

The Master speaks:

Corn ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol

Ethanol from sugar cane does work, but sugar cane only grows in tropical climates which makes it an iffy proposition in terms of reducing US fossil fuel use.

The only people still saying it will save America are those who have an interest in keeping their subsidies for corn ethanol production.

Correct. The answer to whether corn ethanol actually requires more energy than it produces is up for debate, and different studies come to different results depending on what assumptions they use. But it’s certain that nobody put any significant amount of it in gasoline until the government required it. The process is too inefficient to be justified in a free market. It’s a government boondoggle plain and simple.

Personally, I think that turning corn into ethanol is an excellent idea. It’s using it for fuel that is debatable.

Is this thread title a variant on in vino veritas?

After reading a DOE paper on the Brazillian ethanol system, all I could think is that this is a HUGE positive. You can grow sugarcane in Florida, and probably in other gulf coast states. We can grow cane in, I believe, Hawaii as well, and probably some spots in California.

I would love to see a large scale conversion, over 10-20 years, to a cane ethanol system for the vast majority of our vehicles. Pay money to American farmers to grow cane, distill it here, use it here/sell it on the open market.

The downside is that it’s not as efficient as petroleum. That’s about it. To much short term thinking, not enough long term thinking, imo.

The downside is nobody wants to live on the land that ArcherDaniels has already converted the Midwest to corn production, and lots of people want to live in the subtropical regions where sugarcane grows.

There’s a tradeoff that’s hard to predict.

I live in Sugar Land, TX. As you might imagine, that’s because the entire region used to be used for growing and refining sugar. That’s no longer true. Some of the land is suburban development, but the vast majority is still farmland of some sort. Mostly corn, soybeans, and rice and sometimes some cotton.

So, we can grow some sugar cane, but it comes at the cost of those other crops. That’s going to be true for most of the gulf states. US land that’s good for sugar cane is good for other crops and is generally used for those other crops, too. Cellulosic ethanol was attractive because it didn’t require us to choose between fuel and animal feed/food.

Ethanol also requires some changes to infrastructure. Several components in our cars (and in the pipelines and gas pumps) aren’t compatible with ethanol. It’s not clear that changing to an ethanol base over 15-20 years is even a good long-term idea, much less a short term one.

Gets some investors together and do it. If there’s money to be made, and your business plan is sound, you’ll be rich.

The US Ethanol program is an economic and energy disaster. First, it wastes energy-imported oil is used to make the diesel fuel that runs the farm equipment. So we wind up importing MORE oil, not less.
Second, the carbon dioxide produced in making the ethanol exceeds greatly any benefit we have from burning alcohol.
Third, we cold buy ethanol from Brazil ,more cheaply than we can make it-but tariffs ensure that we can’t.
Its another example of the US Congress defying the laws of Physics-and as long as the subsidies are paid, who cares if we add to the debt load? Certainly not the congressional delegations of the farm states. Watch out,Greece, we’re gainin on ya!